Of Snitches and Snakes and Other Creatures
Froggie went a-courtin’, and he did ride,
With a sword and a pistol by his side.
His first impression was of beady black eyes, staring directly into his own. Perfectly circular little eyes, unblinking, set
into a small green face.
Starsky blinked, and the frog vanished.
Vanished. Not jumped, or hopped. Just, one minute it was there, and then sometime in the space between closing and opening
his eyes, it was gone.
He blinked again, and the sun set.
It occurred to him that there was something not quite right about that.
It was dark. He could hear crickets.
His jeans were wet, his ass was freezing, and there was a rock or a branch or something digging a hole in his hip. He tried
to roll off of it, and...
Fuck. His head hurt.
“What do you mean, you don’t know where he is!” Hutch grabbed Jerry by the collar and shook him. The terrified
man dangled from his fist. He was just a beer belly in a white t-shirt, skinny limbs waving feebly, like the frogs Hutch used
to catch in the creek behind his grandfather’s farm.
Beady eyes locked on his own, projecting desperate sincerity. “All I know, man, is they said they were gonna dump him!”
“B-because he was askin’ too many questions! Rob said he’d teach him a lesson ‘bout stickin’
his nose in where it weren’t wanted. Dump him out in the hills and make him walk back.”
Starsky’s cover was secure, but that was scant relief, knowing he was lost somewhere in the hills. Scowling, Hutch shook
Jerry again and said, “Where? Where did they dump him?”
Jerry squealed, the noise high-pitched and panicked. “I don’t know!”
Starsky had found a road in the dark and was trudging down it wearily. He kept tripping over his own feet, and the second
time he’d fallen he’d managed to rip the knee open on his jeans. There was a manic drummer in his head, beating
on the inside of his skull.
Gradually, as he walked, he became aware of a high-pitched squeal. It was nearly constant, breaking off occasionally only
to start again, and it was getting louder the further down the road he went. He stopped, listening. It sounded as if it was
coming from the side of the road a little way ahead.
A wave of dizziness hit Starsky, and he swayed, struggling to remain upright as the ground beneath him pitched from side to
side. For a few moments he didn’t move, and then the spell passed.
The sound was coming from a clump of weeds at the edge of the ditch. Starsky rubbed his eyes. The moon was bright and full,
but the shadows were dark and deep. He stepped closer and pushed a prickly plant back.
Bright eyes caught the moonlight. A snake was stretched out on the ground, eyes rolled back to look up at him, its jaws distended
around the rear half of a frog. The frog’s mouth was gaping open, tiny webbed fingers waving helplessly, and as Starsky
watched it began to squeal again.
Starsky shivered and stepped back. For a brief moment he considered rescuing the frog, but it was already most of the way
down the snake’s throat. Its back legs would surely be broken by now.
And there was something about the snake... Starsky was surprised to find himself feeling sympathy for the snake. It had looked
Hutch shouldn’t have tried to use Jerry. If he’d taken the time to think about it logically, he would have known
that Jerry would sell him out the first chance he got. Jerry was a natural born squealer.
He caught a flash of movement from the corner of his eye and ducked. A fist swung past the side of his head, just catching
his ear. He felt a tearing pain, and was fractionally aware of a flash of metal.
Shit, he thought. Brass knuckles. It occurred to him that he might have just bitten off more than he could chew.
Head down, he threw himself into the nearest body. Blows glanced off his ribs as he straightened, throwing his opponent into
the one behind him. Ducking and weaving, back to the wall, he thought, I can’t afford to be taken down from behind...
He sensed more than saw the fist that hit the wall next to his head. He returned with a roundhouse swing that sent the other
man staggering back.
It took him a moment to realize that the fight was over. One man was on the ground, limp. Another was trying to push himself
up off the floor, and the third was holding his nose as blood gushed down the front of his shirt.
Hutch drew his gun. He stepped over the unconscious man, and hooked his foot under the one on the floor. With one move Hutch
flipped him over and stuck his Magnum in his face. The man froze, eyes wide.
Hutch turned to the final person in the room. “Rob, right?”
“You broke by node!”
Hutch reached down and grabbed the front of Rob’s shirt, ignoring the blood. “I want Dave Starsky, and I want
The sky was lightening, the edge of the horizon fading to grey. Starsky still couldn’t see anything but dirt road. He
was beginning to wonder if he’d stepped into an episode of the Twilight Zone. A man on a road without an end, facing
deadly boredom. The studio audience would be asleep before the first commercial break.
His legs moved automatically, one step following the next. Sometimes he walked with his eyes closed. At least his head was
starting to feel a bit better. The kettle drums had been traded in for bongos. He could think again.
He remembered Rob and his goons catching him out behind the bar. Getting sucker-punched. After that, it was a confused tangle
of images. The back of a pick-up truck, the smell of wet grass, a frog...
Gingerly, he explored the back of his head. His hair was clumped and sticky and there was an area just above his left ear
that he couldn’t touch at all because it hurt too much. The collar of his shirt had dried stiff and was chafing the
back of his neck.
What he thought was, Hutch is going to be pissed off that I went in without backup.
He also thought, Hutch is going to kick my ass.
He deserved it. He’d been too cocky, impatient. He’d jumped without looking first to see where he’d land.
Figured he could handle everything himself...
And maybe he could. The game wasn’t over yet. He was still on his own two feet. Independent.
Just damned tired.
Starsky didn’t come across any more snakes, but he saw several more frogs, a couple of jackrabbits, and a lot of garbage.
Pop cans and hubcaps and plastic bags littered the side of the road. There was a rusted shopping cart in the ditch. He found
the sight reassuring. He might be the last human being in the world, but at least he knew he was still on Earth.
It was an hour after dawn when Hutch spotted a single figure walking in the middle of the road, head down. He hit the brakes
a few feet in front of Starsky, his tires crunching on the gravel, dust settling in a cloud.
Starsky almost walked into the nose of Hutch’s car. He stopped, a look of comic bewilderment on his face.
Hutch leaned out the window. “Hey, stranger. Need a lift?”
Starsky’s smile contrasted incongruously with the dried blood on his face and the dirt matted into his hair. “Hey,
Hutch opened the door as Starsky came around the side. He leaned heavily on the nose of the car, and he groaned as he eased
himself into the passenger seat.
“Are you okay?” asked Hutch.
A hand wobbled in midair. “Eh.” A short pause. “Tired, mostly.”
Hutch started the car. “Hospital or home?”
Starsky’s response was reassuringly firm. “Home.”
Hutch nodded and began to drive. They were nearly at the city limits when he said, “You’re a moron.”
Starsky was leaning on the open window, his head pillowed on his arm. His eyes were closed. “I know.”
“A fucking idiot.”
“Mmm, hm,” said Starsky contentedly.
“If you didn’t look half dead already, I’d kill you myself!”
Starsky let Hutch’s diatribe drift into the background of his consciousness, as the engine rumbled and the air washed
over him. He was aching from the top of his head to the bottom of his feet, but he wasn’t complaining.
He’d just realized something very important. In a world without Hutch, Starsky would have had to hike all the way back
to highway, hitch a ride home and patch himself up without any help from anyone.
He could have done it, but in this version of events he didn’t have to. He got a lift and the knowledge that when he
got home Hutch would follow him inside and have the peroxide and band-aids out before he had finished unlacing his sneakers.
So it didn’t matter what Hutch said, or how long he ranted. It was his actions that told the real story.
“What are you doing?”
With some surprise, Starsky realized he’d been humming to himself. He pried his eyes open and looked at Hutch.
Hutch was focused on driving. “Are you sure you don’t need to see a doctor?” His gaze still on the road,
he reached across and pushed some hair away from Starsky’s forehead.
“Ow!” Starsky batted his hand away. “M’fine.”
“Then why were you humming...?”
“When Froggie Went A’Courting?”
“Yeah.” Now Hutch looked at him. His eyebrows were drawn together, and he was frowning. There was a bruise high
on his right cheek and a thin line of blood had dried on the side of his neck.
“Because it’s nice to be loved,” said Starsky.